Published December 23, 2008
A Florida woman says she was fired from her job for refusing to comply with a policy requiring employees to say "Happy Holidays" to callers — but the company's president claims her story is "absolutely false."
Tonia Thomas says she was terminated two weeks ago from her job at Counts Oakes Resort Properties in Panama City after balking at the rule because it went against her religion. She is suing for lost wages, she said.
Thomas offered to use a generic greeting or say "Merry Christmas" to callers instead, but that offer was denied by company President Andy Phillips, according to the Liberty Counsel — the Christian-based legal group representing her.
"She said, 'That goes against my religious beliefs; I’m participating in secularizing Christmas,'" Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mathew Staver told FOXNews.com. "She asked him for an accommodation ... and he refused."
Thomas, 35, said she doesn't like using the generic greetings at Christmastime and explained that to her former employer.
"I said I have a problem with saying 'Happy Holidays,'" Thomas told FOXNews.com. "The world ... groups Christmas with other holidays, and that's offensive to me as a Christian."
But Phillips says the entire incident has been twisted by both Thomas and the Liberty Counsel.
"I will go on the record as saying Miss Thomas was not terminated for not saying 'Merry Christmas,'" Phillips told FOXNews.com. "A lot of the information that’s been disseminated is absolutely false. It’s definitely a very distorted version of what actually happened."
Phillips declined to specify why Thomas was fired.
"We really do not discuss employee situations," he said.
The incident blew up when Phillips called the police, according to Thomas. Though she wasn't arrested, she said the company president told her as she left, "We’re going to have a Merry Christmas here, Tonia — are you going to have a Merry Christmas now that you don’t have a job?"
Thomas has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She claims the firing was for disobedience in complying with the rule and came without warning. She says her responsibilities had recently increased and she'd always received good work reviews.
No particular incident prompted the policy, according to Phillips. The company was just established in April, after buying out Thomas' old firm.
"We recognize all holidays," Phillips said. "We’re a Christian company and we all celebrate Christmas."
Thomas said she landed another administrative job a week-and-a-half later. She is suing Counts Oakes for lost wages during her unemployment plus the difference between her income there and what she is making now. She declined to talk about the amount of the lawsuit.
"The way everything was handled from beginning to end was callous and cold-hearted and vindictive," she said. "I want my dignity back. I want an apology. It was so embarrassing."